Veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga says Malawi’s Constitutional Court has raised the bar for African countries.

And Mwaanga says the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) must be reconstituted because he has always questioned their ability to hold credible elections.

In an interview, Mwaanga hailed the Malawian Constitutional Court for patiently and extensively hearing the petitions made by the opposition.

“First of all, I want to pay tribute to the Constitutional Court judges in Malawi for the bravery they exhibited throughout the trial and process, which led to the judgement that was delivered. The judgement was a landmark judgement and that the Malawi Judicial system has raised the bar of constitutionality and integrity on the African continent, which I hope will be emulated by other countries, including Zambia,” Mwaanga said.

“It has also shown how important it is for petitioners, who feel aggrieved by outcomes of the elections in presidential elections to be heard from beginning to end. The Malawi elections took place in May, last year; the judgement has been delivered (on) February 3. It is not the amount of time it takes; it is the fairness in which the evidence heard and determined, which is important, and I think that there are lessons to learnt by countries like Zambia.”

He stressed that the Zambian Constitutional Court should emulate their Malawian counterparts, who had vast experience in serving on the Constitutional Court bench unlike the Zambian bench.

“The Malawi Constitutional Court judges are very experienced judges unlike ours in Zambia; most of whom were serving on the Constitutional Court bench for the first time as judges, not having been judges in the past! I think that it is an important lesson for Zambia and an important lesson to be learnt by other African countries in terms of what has happened in Malawi. Malawi may be a small country, but certainly, they have now become standard bearers of constitutionalism and separation of powers between the Executive (and Judiciary). This will go down in the archives of African history,” he said.

“The Kenyan court earlier set a small precedent, but the precedent that was set by the Malawian Constitutional Court raised the bar to a different level and I congratulate the Constitutional Court! I congratulate the people of Malawi and I wish them well as they prepare for a new round of elections, which must be held within the next 150 days and also as Parliament considers some of the recommendations made by the courts regarding lifting the benchmark for electing a President (from) a mere First-Past-The-Post to 50 per cent plus one, which is now the norm in most African countries.”

And Mwaanga said there was need for the ECZ to be reconstituted to enable the Commission conduct free and fair elections.

“The substantial part of the judgement was the severe criticism of the manner in which the Electoral Commission of Malawi conducted the elections. I am sure that you have heard, by now, that the chairperson of the Electoral Commission in Malawi has resigned! I have been questioning the ability of our Election Commission to conduct a free fair and credible election for many years now,” Mwaanga said.

“I hope that the focus now in Zambia will also move to the competency of the Electoral Commission, judging by what happened during the last elections when they were declaring results, which later on they had to correct; Lundazi was one of those cases. I really think that our Electoral Commission needs to be reconstituted so that we can have a Commission in which all stakeholders are going to have confidence in.”

He called for political dialogue on how the commission can be supported to hold credible elections.

“Among the leaders, there has to be a process of political dialogue, which must then lead towards an agreement as to what to do with the current Electoral Commission, which in my view, is not as competent as it should be. There have been issues that have arisen before; there are issues that arose during the last (2016) elections and these are issues, which just cannot be glossed over; they must be examined in greater details so that you have an Electoral Commission in place, which the participants in the elections, the stakeholders are going to have confidence in,” he argued.

Meanwhile, Mwaanga, observed that the ECZ’s decision not to sponsor election observers to monitor the printing of ballot papers was ill-conceived.

“I think that is a very bad decision because the cost of creating confidence among the stakeholders is so important. The cost of sending observers of representatives of political parties to go and observe the printing of ballot papers is a small cost compared to the consequences of what will happen if they don’t go there because if you think that democracy is cheap, then you better find another country to go and live in! The alternative to democracy and confidence is to ghastly to contemplate! I hope that the Electoral Commission of Zambia will reconsider that ill-conceived decision,” said Mwaanga.